Science friction? –  

July 23, 2020 – This mechanism also underlies drug addiction and is the reason why hanging out in an environment or with people associated with memories of drug use often leads to relapse. How our brains create this strong association, however, is less clear. Now, new research by Professor Ami Citri and Ph.D. student Anna Terem at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU)’s Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences and the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Science, shows that a relatively obscure brain region known as the claustrum plays a significant role in making these connections. They published their findings in the latest edition of Current Biology.

The researchers’ findings fit the idea of ‘incentive salience,’ the process that determines the desirability of an otherwise neutral stimulus. For example, a candy store façade becomes very attractive to kids after repeated associations with the rewarding treats that lie within. In time, children unconsciously learn to ‘want’ to see the store stimulus, which is separate from their “liking” the actual candy reward. Taking a closer look at how context becomes associated with cocaine, the researchers found a group of neurons within the claustrum that lit up during cocaine use. Further, these neurons are pivotal in the formation of an incentive salience that links context with the pleasure of cocaine.

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